At about three reported deaths each year, the brain-eating amoeba claimed one extra victim last summer. Although the infection is extremely rare, there have already been three individuals -- two children and a young man- who have been exposed to the parasite and killed by the resulting infection this summer.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the first victim, a nine-year-Virginia boy- died a week after attending a fishing day camp. His mother recounted that his head was dunked underneath the water the first day of camp.
The second case was a bit more unusual. A young man in his 20s was found dead in June after using a small device known as a neti pot to rinse out his nose and sinuses with salt water to relieve allergies, colds, and sinus problems. Further investigation into the case revealed that the tap water used in the neti pot contained amoeba. The amoeba was confined to the home’s water system and was not found in the city’s water supply, Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist said.
The young man had not been swimming nor in contact with surface water, but the usage of amoeba-infested tap water killed him. Only distilled, sterile, or boiled water are to be used in neti pots, Ratard added.
The third victim was just claimed this month. A 16-year-old Florida girl was fatally infected with the amoeba after returning from a swim.
Since the brain-eating amoeba was first discovered in the early 1960s, there have only been 120 reported cases in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost all of the cases resulted tragically in deaths with only one case successfully treated. “It’s very difficult to treat, most people die from it,” Ratard said. But even though almost all of the cases resulted in deaths, the illness is still incredibly rare and there are no signs that cases are increasing, Jonathan Yoder, who coordinates surveillance of waterborne diseases for the CDC said.
The amoeba- Naegleria fowleria- kills by weaving its way up the nostril passageways, burrowing into the skull and then destroying brain tissue, causing meningitis. The amoeba is most commonly found in the South, living in warm lakes and rivers during hot summer months.
But not all people who swim or come into contact with amoeba-infected waters contract the disease. “It’s a medical mystery why some people who swim in amoeba-infected water get the fatal nervous system condition while others don’t,” experts say.
Read more about the brain-eating amoeba here.